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WFI Student Activities

WFI Student Activities

One of the ways that we enact the WFI’s mission — communication as central to the creation of positive social change — is through the sponsorship of student activities that allow undergraduate students to engage specific social justice issues, and make a difference in communities across the globe, through their classwork. Thanks to the WFI, students at Villanova and across the world have the opportunity to influence and change society through communication.

Riptide Pictures
Our "Sankofa" filmmakers won a Student Academy Award!

An interview with Opeyemi, a producer of Student Academy Award Winner, and Gold Medalist, Sankofa 

Q1. In the early stages of Sankofa’s journey, what was the main goal you wanted to achieve for this documentary? 

The main goal we wanted to achieve was to create a film that serves as an amplifying platform to the voices of those around us. As a team we focused on understanding what really mattered to us individually and collectively, ultimately deciding to set Sankofa in both Ghana and Philadelphia. This allowed us to delve into why displaying prevalent social justice issues mattered, not just for our own lives and for those of the communities we live in, but for people all around the world.


Q2. How does it feel to be the first Villanova University film to have won a Student Academy Award and receive the gold medal?

It is so surreal! When we first started production, no one ever imagined Sankofa would be where it is in this amount of time. Our main focus was and continues to be, to tell a story that does justice to all the people we met and connected with both in Ghana and the United States, the dialogues that happened, the experiences we had and to the lives of those you would typically hear about. For Sankofa to be recognized with this achievement and to be the first film in Villanova University’s history to do so, further emphasizes the impact it has on those who have watched it.


3. Why did you choose to focus on issues of mental slavery in Sankofa

We chose to focus on this topic because it truly encapsulates the not-so-commonly-known dynamic and historic relationship between Ghana and the U.S., while also serving as an explanation for why and how societies have formed and functioned in the ways that they have. Coming from the U.S. and witnessing Black Lives Matter movements and police killings, we wanted to understand why things have escalated as such. While in Ghana, our team visited slave castles and spoke with locals and government officials to better understand the country’s history before and after the Atlantic Slave trade. Our understanding of these two parts led us to the idea of mental slavery.


4. How has the Waterhouse Family Institute (WFI) helped make the production of Sankofa possible?  

The WFI has given us an abundance of support in various forms for our production. The WFI was an amazing resource for us in terms of spreading the word about our trip and team as well as providing funds for production, materials and equipment. We are grateful for this wonderful relationship between Villanova and the WFI that continues to grow over the years.


5. How does your film embody the mission of the Waterhouse Family Institute? 

Sankofa embodies the mission of the WFI through its creative platform of storytelling. While sharing the lives of our two activists Marcquis and Godsway, we worked to include historical information about Ghana and the U.S., using visuals and archival footage to emphasize the message, while also having a poetic narration throughout the film. WFI promotes the use of communication as a means to building a relationship with ourselves, others and the world around us. I believe with Sankofa that is the goal- we want anyone watching our film to challenge what they know or what others believe and build new foundations and processes in order for everyone to better understand each other and the world we live in.


6. What have you learned throughout this exciting journey? 

I’ve learned to let go of myself and live in the moment. Traveling abroad and meeting and connecting with people from different backgrounds has taught me to see the world from a new perspective. This journey has had its ups and downs, which is to be expected with any project. But I, and I believe I speak for my team too, have learned that you just have to be open about what life has to offer during the good and bad times. 


7. Do you have plans to produce new films in the near future? 

As of right now, Riptide Pictures, our production company, is focusing on continuing to spread Sankofa to as many people as we can. Our team is dispersed in various places so production would take more planning, but who knows what the future holds!



WFI Interns on CNN

WFI Internships in Rome

One of the ways that our scholarly mission engages undergraduate students is through support of Villanova’s WFI Internship program. WFI proudly provides financial assistance to students who travel to Rome each semester to take part in this prestigious work experience, either at the Vatican or at the United Nations.

  • Established over a decade ago, the WFI Internship at the Vatican has allowed students interested in public relations, journalism, and media production to assist Vatican-related offices with social media outreach and other tasks, seeing firsthand how people from vastly different backgrounds and cultures are united by words that capture shared beliefs. Our WFI Interns worked to film virtual reality tours of the Papal Basilicas and Chapels. They were on the stage when Pope Benedict launched the Papal Twitter account, and were on the scene during the Papal Conclave and the Installation of Pope Francis. Former WFI Interns were accredited to cover Pope Francis' historic visit to Philadelphia in September, 2015. They are currently assisting with the Vatican's social media outreach (like the #FridaysofMercy Instagram campaign for @VaticanNews) that impacts more than 1 billion people around the world!

Given this unique program, and the amazing experiences our students have had, our WFI Interns have appeared on CNN, the Today Show, MSNBC, NPR, and all four Philadelphia network affiliates. Our students and faculty have been quoted in stories run by USA Today, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and numerous other media outlets.

  • Begun in Fall, 2014, our WFI Internship at the United Nations’ International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) gives students in rhetorical studies and in public relations the opportunity to participate in international advocacy intended to end rural poverty, by investing in rural people. Our WFI Interns at the UN have had their IFAD blogs tweeted by international NGO's such as OxFam, have written speeches for IFAD officials, and have engaged in social media advocacy to assist in realizing IFAD's mission.
Interested in becoming a WFI Intern? Contact the coordinator of the WFI Internships, Dr. Amy Way
Filming WFI Social Justice Documentaries

WFI-Funded Social Justice Documentaries

Storytelling is not simply a subject engaged by Communication scholars; it is also something that students creating the WFI-funded Social Justice Documentaries use to create social change.

As part of this unique program, students spend the semester learning about film and then creating documentaries that allow them to become advocates for important societal issues—sometimes staying in the Philadelphia area, sometimes journeying as far as Ghana, India, or Costa Rica. The resulting films have won awards at local, regional, national, and international documentary festivals—and in the last two years, we've had three films chosen as finalists for the Student Academy Awards. In October 2019, "Sankofa" WON a Student Academy Award, and was awarded a GOLD MEDAL by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences; in Summer 2015, "In Transition" and "Rise and Shine" were both selected as finalists for the Student Academy Awards by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (out of nearly 1700 films submitted for consideration); in Spring 2014, our film “Heel’d” was selected as a finalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 41st Student Academy Awards competition. All told, our students have told remarkable stories that have changed the lives of both the students and subjects involved, while challenging society’s view of the issues.

Interested in seeing more about these films? Although each group of students creates their own production company and materials, we have started a YouTube Channel devoted to the WFI-Funded Social Justice Documentaries.

WFI Funded Student Project in Ghana

The WFI Communication Student Grant Program

In Summer 2014, the WFI provided a grant of $12,660 to three Villanova undergraduate alums: Lauren Colegrove, Andrew Balamaci, and Nashia Kamal. Their project proposed to teach journalism and reporting skills to the high school students at Heritage Academy in Essiam, Ghana, and, further, to help the school establish a newspaper for their students. They have developed their idea further, into a new program connecting journalism and social justice.

Building upon this experience, the WFI has at times offered a grant program for undergraduate students in Communication at colleges and universities across the US. Our goal has been to provide support of up to $10,000 for an undergraduate-centered project that connects communication and social justice.

We are not currently soliciting grant applications; check back at a later date for new information on our programs for students!

In the meantime, if you have questions about this program, please contact the WFI Director.

The WFI is excited to announce the first official recipient of its new student grant program. The project, entitled "Performing Resistance in the Big Easy: Social Justice and the African American GLBTQ Community in New Orleans," was the work of two undergraduate students from Xavier University of Louisiana, Andre Morgan, Jr. and Kianna Greene (with the guidance of their faculty advisor, Dr. Kimberly J. Chandler, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies, Affiliate Faculty, Women’s Studies Program, Xavier University of Louisiana).

Their project, which was awarded $10,000 for the 2016-17 academic year, is an clear embodiment of the WFI mission to connect communication and social justice--and a clear indication of the kidns of innovative, powerful programs that undergraduate students can create, given support. Their project's abstract gives you a sense of the quality and import of this project:

"Historically, the African American GLBTQ community has been an important contributor to the fight for civil and human rights in the American South.  However, this community is relatively invisible due to stigmatization and marginalization by the Black community as well as larger dominant society.  While this community has been on the front lines, fighting for gay rights and against injustice for some time, their lived experiences are virtually unknown.  Using interviews and focus groups, the proposed project will examine the ways in which the African American GLBTQ community in New Orleans performs gender as a tool of resistance.  Using performativity as a theoretical framework, the project will focus on the distinctive ways they do gender to positively impact social change. The project seeks to make visible this community’s significant contributions through a scholarly publication, interactive website archive and public exhibition of videos, photographs and narratives focusing on their unique lives."

Please join the WFI in congratulating these young scholars, and please also be inspired by their example to submit a proposal for our next award!

(We will provide additional updates to this project as they become available.)


The WFI is excited to announce the recipient of its 2017-18 student grant program. The project, entitled "COZY GIRLZ: Curating Cozy Connections, Conversations, and Community for Women in Male-Dominated Industries," was the work of an undergraduate student from Howard University, Jazmin Goodwin.

Her project, which was awarded $10,000 for the 2017-18 academic year, is an clear embodiment of the WFI mission to connect communication and social justice--and a clear indication of the kidns of innovative, powerful programs that undergraduate students can create, given support. Her project's abstract gives you a sense of the nature and import of this project:

"The topic of equality and empowerment for women is one of importance because enabling women and girls represents the single biggest opportunity for human development and economic growth. Without equality and opportunities for empowerment for women and girls we are missing an opportunity for social progress and global economic development. This project exemplifies the mission of the WFI - communication as central to the creation of positive social change - because the project is centered on curating conversations among women, building connections among women, and creating community among women in male-dominated industries. This will be carried out by identifying the narratives of women that need to be told and providing a platform for women to amplify their voices to inform, inspire, and ignite social change. This project aims to establish a platform that defies statistics, transcends societal norms, and creates an inclusive, inspirational, and authentic environment for women through a web series, mini-documentary, social media campaign, and website."

Please join the WFI in congratulating this young scholar, and please also be inspired by her example to submit a proposal for our next award!

(We will provide additional updates to this project as they become available.)

Sankofa is a Student Academy Award Finalist

The WFI-funded social justice documentary Sankofa has just been named a Student Academy Award Winner and Gold Medalist for 2019! Click here to see the official announcement! Click here, and skip to the 1 hr 08 min mark, to see Princess Garrett's acceptance speech (and shots of the whole team of student filmmakers)!

WFI Interns at the Vatican

WFI Interns in Rome work for Vatican offices or the UN, engaging the power of storytelling to effect change.

WFI Social Justice Documentaries 2015 Student Academy Award Finalists

In August 2015, two of our WFI-funded Social Justice Documentaries were chosen as Finalists for the 42nd Annual Student Academy Awards Competition!